Military reform in Turkey?

Today's Zaman reported on 31 August 2010 on plans for a reform of the Turkish military. The reform plans, which have been drawn up the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, clash with the ideas put forward by the Turkish government, including the Ministry of Defence. According to the reform plan, a new, “uniform compulsory military service” in which every male citizen would be required to serve for nine months regardless of their level of education would replace the existing conscription system, in which the length of service ranges from six months for university graduates to 15 months for those without university education, and the option to serve one month and pay an exemption fee for those living abroad.

Today's Zaman columnist Lale Kemal criticised the proposal. She said that the army did not work with the government, Parliament or professional associations for the young men, such as trade chambers, in preparing its proposal. “Such an attitude is an indication of their desire to continue with their military tutelage,” she argued.

Minister of Interior Beşir Atalay announced that police would be exempt from military service, but Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner denied that. This also shows that while they were preparing this suggestion they did not consult with the civilian authority,” Kemal pointed out.

According to Today's Zaman, the proposal presented by the Turkish military does not address the problem of conscientious objection, despite the decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and international agreements that Turkey has signed.

According to Today's Zaman, State Minister Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, said only seven countries in the European Union have compulsory military service and that even they recognize the right of conscientious objection. “Instead of having an amateur army with 1 million men, it is more reasonable to have a professional army with fewer men,” he said. Bağış added that it is wrong to use young men who have only received a couple of months of training to fight terrorism in southeastern Anatolia. “In particular, those soldiers who are on duty in southeastern Anatolia should receive the best possible training and be equipped very well. They should consider their duty a professional job,” he said.

The present proposal seems to differ from the proposal presented by the military in 2009. At the end of April 2009, then Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ said that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was having difficulty recruiting, and that the military is currently able to meet only about 65 percent of its need for troops. He also signaled that the military had plans to terminate the short-term service option for graduates of higher-education institutions. In some aspects the new proposal goes further than the one from April 2009, as it would introduce a military service of the same length for everybody.

In its report on the new proposal Today's Zaman does not mention aspects of professionalisation. In its report on the 2009 proposal, the paper wrote: "The draft leaves all tasks requiring specialisation to professional soldiers, but it is still treated as a mixed system because it relies on compulsory conscripts in meeting the military's need for soldiers in other areas. The professionalisation of specialized tasks is the continuation of a 2007 regulation issued by the General Staff which transformed six brigades under the Gendarmerie and the Land Forces commands to completely professional units."

In August 2010, Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan replaced the Chief of General Staff with Işık Koşaner. The new chief of the General Staff, General Koşaner, is a soldier of few words. He has steered clear of the current confrontation between military leaders and government. According to Radikal, a well-respected newspaper, in 2006 the general made it clear that he would oppose a coup. Similarly, during the heated debate at the time of President Gül’s election, he said, “The law does not indicate how the wife of the president should dress. What matters is that whoever is elected respects the constitution.

While the power struggles between the Erdoğan government and the Turkish military is now fought over the proposal for the future of conscription, the military is still imprisoning conscientious objectors. Most recently, İnan Suver has been arrested, and is presently detained in the military prison of Izmir on pre-trial detention. He is presently on hunger strike (see co-alert, 3 September 2010).

Sources: Today's Zaman: Army’s new plan for uniform service falls short of expectations, 31 August 2010; Today's Zaman: Military will not abandon draft while transforming into professional army, 26 May 2009; AsiaNews.it: Erdoğan’s victory over the military, 17 August 2010; War Resisters' International: Country reports and updates: Turkey, 23 October 2008

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